Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Thread Painting Prep Technique on Trial

I can finally see the light at the end of the Phoenix tunnel.  The bird is on the quilt and I am quilting the lower third where fire burns under the bird.  I hope to be done by the end of the month.

So...what is next?  I will be doing a thread painted portrait of my grandson.  Those of you who follow me regularly have seen my first attempt.  My colors were wrong so I will be shopping for thread in brown tones to accommodate his Asian skin.  Forget the pink!  I will also be trying a new technique.

Original Photo
There are three methods for prepping a portrait to be thread painted.  For all three you posterize a black and white version of the photo in an image editing program (I use Photoshop).  This will give you delineation of the values needed (4-6 is best).  Any more than 6 values and you will probably go crazy.  There are three ways to carry on from here.

Posterized black and white
1.  Using fusible fabric.  Print two copies on freezer paper, one as a guide, the other to cut into pattern pieces.  You don't have to cut every teeny, weeny dot; the cuts can be a bit more general.  The pattern pieces and the guide must all be carefully marked.  Lea McComas  has an excellent system, which she describes in detail in her book, "Thread Painted Portraits."  The cut pattern pieces are used to cut fabric to which fusible material has been applied.  Again, her book has all the details and photos to help.  I used this method for my bird and I like the depth that is achieved.  Not all parts are completely covered with thread so the underlying fabric peeks through and adds richness to the texture.  The example below is loosely thread painted as I wanted to give the illusion of ruffled feathers.  The point here is that the different fabrics add to the illusion.

Ruffled feathers on the Phoenix
2.  Using a photo printed on fabric.  I took a class from Lea and saw some work she has done with this method.  You back your fabric with freezer paper and print the black and white, posterized photo right onto fabric that has been treated so the ink won't run. The thread painting covers the black and white ink and is not noticeable unless you really look closely.  Click to enlarge and look between thread lines to see the gray background.  That's what I did with my first attempt at a portrait.  This portrait was not successful because of the colors of thread I chose.  The prepping was fine and I would call that part successful.

Practice piece (bad thread colors)
TIP:  If you are afraid to run fabric through your printer you can print on Sulky Sticky and stick it to  your fabric.  Even if you have to print on two pieces and match with a small overlap it works fabulously.  I cut my printed Sulky Sticky out around the head and shoulders so my background fabric remained uncovered.  A big plus is that you don't take a chance of ruining the background fabric and/or your printer when printing.  You also don't have to send it out to one of the companies that will print it for you (unless you plan on a huge quilt).

3.  Printing with color on fabric (or Sulky Sticky).  I am a Photoshop junkie so this may not work for you if you don't have any interest in or expertise with a photo imaging program.  I made my black and white posterized image and then, with the free-form pencil on a separate layer I traced around the lightest value and filled that space with the lightest color I intend to use.  Then on another layer I traced and filled the next darker value with that darker color. . . and so on.  It took me a lot less time than cutting little, irregular pieces of fabric.
Two of the color values traced (each is on its own layer in Photoshop)
Instead of printing black and white I will print the color version and use matching colors of thread, blending the edges where different colors meet.

Posterized color version ready for printing
This is my own idea so I will have to let you know how it works.  I also have to test the ink on Sulky Sticky to make sure is won't run.  I can do that with the practice version that I made in December.   I am thinking out loud here.  We'll see how it works. . .

. . . but I have to FINISH the Phoenix first!

TIP:  Plan ahead.  That way you have plenty of time to work out at least some the bugs before you start sewing the next project.  I hate UFOs.

Sew a happy seam this week.


  1. I am familiar with these methods but have never thread painted a portrait. Even so, this post was so interesting! Thanks for the details and your thought process. Good luck with the phoenix!

  2. Thank you for all the information on thread painting portraits. I've never tried one but you make it sound do able.